By Sean Tubbs and Brian Wheeler

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

If dredging of the

South Fork Rivanna Reservoir

is performed as part of an amended 50-year water supply plan or as a separate project, it will be managed by the

Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority

. Charlottesville’s City Council decided Monday night against taking on a dredging project by itself.

“[A request for proposals] ought to be done by the [RWSA] and ought to be paid for by them,” City Councilor

Satyendra Huja

said. “We can be watchful with our staff and monitor the process of the RFP [development].”

Listen using player above or download the podcast:

Download 20101004-CC-Dredging


Kristin Szakos

said if the city wants dredging to be part of the water plan, it must be willing to do so within the bounds of the RWSA.

“In order for [dredging] to be taken on by the region, I think we may have to give up a certain amount of autonomy on that,” said Szakos. “That’s something I think is worth doing in order to make it part of that plan.”

Opponents of the water plan had argued the city should oversee the process because the city owns the dam, paid for the majority of a dredging feasibility study, and has separately paid to study the feasibility of enlarging the existing

Lower Ragged Mountain Dam


“You all have invested upwards of a half-million dollars in these studies and I would hope you just be sure we don’t lose all of that investment by not retaining control,” said Dede Smith of the group

Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan


The firm

Gannett Fleming

estimated that, in a worst-case scenario, continuous dredging of the South Fork for 50 years could cost as much as $223 million. The high cost, combined with an insufficient increase in water storage capacity, resulted in dredging being taken out of the water plan. However, the cost estimate prompted the water plan’s critics to call for an independent evaluation of the cost of dredging.

In April 2009, the city approved an RFP for a feasibility study to provide another cost estimate. Two city representatives were appointed to serve on a committee that ultimately selected

HDR Engineering

for the project. Earlier this year, HDR reported a one-time dredging of the reservoir, to restore it as close as possible to its original condition, would cost between $32 million and $40 million.

That report, along with a study from

Black & Veatch

that concluded the Ragged Mountain Dam could be expanded, led the council to vote for an amended water plan in mid-September. The city’s new plan emphasizes extensive and ongoing dredging of the

South Fork Rivanna Reservoir

, phased construction of a taller dam at Ragged Mountain Dam, a new pipeline connecting Ragged Mountain to the South Fork and aggressive water conservation efforts.

The original plan approved in 2006 and still backed by

Albemarle County

calls for a higher dam at Ragged Mountain and a pipeline from the South Fork to the Rivanna. It did not include dredging.

At a joint meeting in September, city and county officials agreed that dredging should be evaluated separately from the water supply plan and that the costs to actually do dredging would still have to be negotiated.

At an RWSA board meeting last week, the

Piedmont Group of the Sierra Club

called for a new dredging RFP that would calculate cost estimates for restorative dredging over a longer period than what was envisioned by HDR. Supporters of this approach to dredging, over a 20- to 30-year period, say it could be paid for with cash and thus avoid the debt service of a large one-time project. After the public input, Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris told the RWSA board that he wanted to discuss the RFP process again with the City Council.

Rebecca Quinn, one of the city’s two representatives on the 2009 selection committee, said at Monday’s council meeting that the dredging RFP should contain multiple possibilities of how the reservoir could be dredged in order to provide multiple cost estimates.

“I would encourage you to maintain flexibility and not make a decision that precludes flexibility in the future,” Quinn said.

Norris said he also asked staff to investigate the possibility of the city and the RWSA purchasing equipment to perform their own dredging operations.

Huja said he was skeptical.

“I’m leery of getting into the dredging business,” Huja said. “There are plenty of private contractors who can do that.”

“There are a number of communities that are doing it in-house,” Norris said. “I’d like to hear why they made that decision, what issues they encountered and what costs they’ve incurred just so we can have it as part of our menu of options.”

A final decision on whether to dredge would be made by the RWSA board.

Meanwhile, an independent panel of dam experts has been asked to review the Black & Veatch study on the 1908 Lower Ragged Mountain Dam. The council will make a decision on whether to pursue the next phase of the Black & Veatch study after the panel has had a chance to provide feedback. Acting City Manager

Maurice Jones

told the council he will work to ensure the public has access to the panel’s correspondence to make sure that process is transparent.



Interested in what we're working on next? Sign up for our weekly newsletter and never miss a story.